Although it is snowing in some locations of the Upper Midwest this week, it is still technically spring. Spring planting either has started already or will start in the coming weeks in most other Corn Belt locations.
It isn't breaking news to anyone reading this, but it's still a good reminder this time of year that planter maintenance is important. An Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach Integrated Crop Management News post from April 9 titled "Planter Maintenance Tips of 2019" gives some basic tips for maintaining a planter.
One thing planter operators should pay attention to is the soil-engaging components since the planter replaces tillage equipment in no-till or reduced-till situations. Some first-time no-till planter operators are disappointed to see seed placement at 1/2- or 3/4-inch depths, rather than at the 1 1/2- to 2-inch depths their planter was set.
"The problem is that if there is not enough weight on the seed openers, or the seed openers have not been maintained to keep a narrow profile with sharp edges, the row unit may be 'resting up' on the openers without the depth wheels touching the soil surface," the report said.
The report said operators should set planting depth according to soil moisture conditions. Penetration of the seed openers is a particular problem in dry soils when you may be trying to plant the seed slightly deeper. Deeper planting may be required to ensure adequate moisture availability for successful germination when the soil surface is dry.
The report said operators should also check the planter's double-disc seed openers. Worn seed openers tend to let soil and residue into the furrow and are more difficult to insert at desired planting depth.
Planter operators should be flexible and adjust planters as necessary to deal with changes in soil moistures and residue levels. You should always be aware of soil moisture conditions, the report stated.
Down pressure is another important aspect of planter maintenance. Pneumatic diaphragms or down-pressure springs transfer weight from the toolbar planter frame to seed openers to penetrate the soil.
Operators should transfer just enough down pressure from the frame on parallel links to make sure depth gauge wheels are firmly resting on the soil surface. Too little pressure results in shallow seed placement, whereas too much pressure compacts the soil near the seed furrow.
"Be aware of 'smearing' of the seed-furrow sidewall, which indicates that the soil is too wet to plant," the report said. "Too much down pressure or planting in wet soils will result in compacting the seedbed, making emergence and root development difficult."
Another planter maintenance tip is to make sure the seed-metering and soil-engaging components are working properly and checked periodically in the field. Get off the tractor and check seed depth, spacing, count and seed-to-soil contact, especially as field conditions change.
From my experience on our own farm, this last tip is one we have tried to do quite often.
The only way you really know how you are doing in planting is to stop and dig around in the soil to see. I know you can't spend hours looking in the soil to see where the seeds are going, but even spending just a few minutes every once in a while is a good way to make sure everything is working like it's supposed to be.
To read the entire ISU report, click on the following link: https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/…
Russ Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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